NORMAL — The Illinois State University community was stunned to learn Friday that two students had died in apparently unrelated incidents the night before in their rooms in neighboring residence halls.
Sophomore Allison C. Zak, 19, of Schaumburg was found in her Manchester Hall room about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, and freshman John “Cody” Stephens, also 19, of Wilmette was found in his room about two hours later at Hewett Hall. Both were found by their roommates, McLean County Coroner Beth Kimmerling said.
The deaths remain under investigation, but there are no signs of foul play, outside-party involvement or connection between the two deaths, she said.
“It’s weird for it to happen on your own doorstep,” said sophomore David Tulls of Scotland, who lives in Manchester Hall. He said two people from the university’s international program came to talk with students in that program.
“Two people in the same night was what makes it so strange,” said sophomore Michelle Kero of Chicago, who also lives in Manchester. “This stuff doesn’t happen here.”
In a campus email Friday afternoon, ISU President Al Bowman said: “It is often difficult to understand and sometimes impossible to explain lives lost at such an early age. Sometimes, the best we can do is to share our grief and offer comfort to each other.”
Preliminary autopsy findings Friday indicated Zak’s death may be related to an undiagnosed seizure disorder or Crouzon syndrome, which manifests itself in brain and skull abnormalities, Kimmerling said. Zak reportedly fell and hit her head earlier this week, but the autopsy showed no fatal trauma as a result of this incident, she said.
Stephens’ death “is the result of a non-natural process,” Kimmerling said, declining to release additional details on his death.
Each case will wait for toxicology and other test results before a cause of death is finally determined.
ISU police and the coroner’s office continue to investigate.
Zak was majoring in languages, literatures and cultures. Stephens was majoring in computer science.
Many students learned of the deaths through a university email and social media postings sent at 7 a.m. by Bowman. Counselors were at both residence halls overnight to meet with the roommates and other students.
“The only calls we’ve gotten so far (Friday) are from parents who couldn’t reach their children,” said Sandy Colbs, director of Student Counseling Services.
She said counselors will continue to follow up, particularly with the students’ roommates. “Those will be the students we will be watching in the days ahead,” she said.